November 14, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson (11) shoots the ball against Atlanta Hawks shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson (92) during the fourth quarter at ORACLE Arena. The Warriors defeated the Hawks 92-88. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Advanced Metrics Provide Hope for Golden State Warriors

The Mitch Albom Problem

Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press wrote his treatise on the the American League MVP today. In short, he thinks the writers got it right when they handed Detroit Tigers triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera the award in a landslide. He’s almost certainly wrong in his conclusion, but the way he reached it is the real problem.

Albom’s piece is fantastic in its intellectual laziness, and it’s frankly embarrassing to read. He is overtly dismissive of the many useful statistical tools at our disposal, but the pervasive undercurrent is really better characterized as one of fear and ignorance. At best, his opinion makes him sound curmudgeonly. At worst, it makes him a fool. In any case, what he wrote today does not speak well for his willingness to embrace facts, objectivity or the uncomfortable newness of having one’s subjectively formed beliefs challenged by dispassionate logic.

Albom is very much entitled to his opinion, but everyone else is also entitled to react to that opinion by telling him that it is “informed” by completely insubstantial beliefs. Everyone is also entitled to call him a smarmy, frightened ass. He’s getting a mountain of backlash already, but in ten years, what he wrote today will read like the anti-suffrage literature of the early 20th century.

This has been a hastily written digression, so excuse its haphazard construction. But, it also serves as an altogether-too-long introduction to a look at some of the Golden State Warriors’ advanced offensive statistics from this young season, courtesy of Synergy Sports. If you’re not interested in the discussion of the value of advanced statistics, you can stop reading now. Maybe you’d be more interested in Tuesdays with Morrie,
or, perhaps, a coloring book.


The Numbers

According to Synergy Sports, the Golden State Warriors were the NBA’s fifth-most efficient offense in 2011-12. They were the league’s best shooting team, ranking first in points per possession on spot ups (thank you, Klay Thompson), ninth in shots off of screens and 10th in transition. Every single thing the Warriors did on offense last year with any frequency worked at an above-average level.

Things have changed this season. The Warriors have the NBA’s No. 23 offense. They’ve fallen off a cliff in the spot-up department, rating 14th overall with a points-per-play average of just .92. Virtually everything the Warriors have done on offense rates no better than average, and most of their numbers put them in the league’s bottom third. Here are some specific sets and ratings:

—Isolation: 22nd

—Transition: 23rd

—Pick-and-roll ball handler: 10th

—Pick-and-roll “Roll man”: 29th

—Offensive rebound: 27th

Anecdotal observation of the Warriors’ offense this year clearly supports the numbers we’re seeing. Neither Curry nor Thompson, the keys to the offense, have made open shots at anything approaching their 2011-12 rates. Both are currently shooting under 40 percent from the field, despite plenty of open looks. That has to change. It’s not reasonable to believe that both players have turned from knockdown shooters to DeShawn Stevenson overnight.

The pick-and-roll numbers are also easy to buy. David Lee simply doesn’t set screens—not good ones, anyway—and that basically aborts the potential effectiveness of the play before it gets started. His penchant for slipping the screen or shuffling off to the side in hopes of receiving a pass for a low-percentage long two has spiked this season, robbing the Warriors of a potent offensive option. Unlike the shooting woes, this is something that is less likely to change. Lee doesn’t seem to respond to criticism by changing the way he plays, and even if he were willing, we’re presupposing that Lee’s poor screening is even on the coaching staff’s radar.

With such a huge offensive dip, it’s pretty amazing that the Warriors’ record is as respectable as it is. If anything, there are two sources of optimism we can draw from these offensive metrics. First, they’re likely to regress to the mean—especially in the shooting department. And second, the defensive numbers are vastly improved. More on that tomorrow.

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